Friday, July 27, 2018

Dark Emu - Bangarra Dance Theatre

Dark Emu.  Bangarra Dance Theatre at Canberra Theatre Centre, July 26 – July 28, 2018.

Artistic Director – Stephen Page; Costume Designer – Jennifer Irwin; Lighting Designer – Sian James-Holland; Cultural Consultant – Yuin/Biripi Nation Woman, Lynne Thomas; Set Designer – Jacob Nash; Dramaturg – Alana Valentine; Composer – Steve Francis; Language Consultant – Yuin knowledge holder, Warren Foster.

Choreographers: Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Yolande Brown, and the dancers of Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 26

To say Bangarra’s Dark Emu is just wonderful is not enough.  I felt a great sense of wonder growing from the first appearance of the people – our First People – heads and then lifted arms, hands exploring space, whole bodies stretching, twisting, turning in a new land.

By the end it was a great wonder, expressed in glorious, powerfully appreciative applause from the full house, for the ingenuity, determination and resilience in the people’s survival – throughout the ages long before as well as since 1770.

In this beautifully abstracted dance-drama, the enclosure of the people by invaders’ fences and cultural tie-downs is just the latest brief time of struggle compared with the aeons of learning to manage growth in this land of fire and flood.

The people win through as they always have.  In the final image, a reprise, we return to the land of the beginning.  The dancers leave the scene, heads high.  The wonder of their living is complete.  This is their land still, and ever will be.

After how I felt and what I thought, there’s much more to be said about this production.  I am not formally qualified to judge dance technique in any detail, but I saw here a unified style clearly deeply engaged in traditional dance forms yet developed into highly emotive modern dance.  That in itself dramatically represents the theme of the work.

The energy of the drama is driven by extraordinary surround sound, tremendous visuals (the fire scene was frightening while unavoidably beautiful) – the whole combined with the most original costuming of the dancers becoming a great example of the effective integration of technology in the work, moving us along through 16 scenes in 70 minutes.

The modern qualities (and top-class quality) of the staging enhances the point of the story – First Peoples belong to the ancient past yet live essentially in our world today – still exploring new ways to express their continuing culture.

There is the wonder indeed, working from the study done by Bunurong/Tasmanian Bruce Pascoe in his book – essential reading – Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? (Magabala Books, 2014).  This work – both the book and the dance-drama – changes all our understanding of rhe past towards a better future.  More than wonderful – just outstanding.

 Photos by Daniel Boud